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Kenmore leverages its assets for economic vitality | Editorial
When 16 offers came in to purchase and develop Kenmore Village, 9.5 acres of city-owned land in the heart of downtown Kenmore, city officials asked the potential buyers, “Why Kenmore?” The answers were consistent and simple: proximity to jobs and quick, toll-free access to both sides of Lake Washington.
A Google employee, who recently relocated from the Silicon Valley, drove home these points when sharing why he chose to live in Kenmore: “So I can quickly get to both Google campuses, Kirkland and Fremont, without paying a toll.”
This feedback succinctly illustrates why north-end cities, such as Kenmore and Bothell, have tremendous opportunity to proactively capitalize on economic and geographic patterns to add horsepower to their economic engines.
We are seeing our geographic advantage play out as real estate developers are investing in the Northshore area at increasing levels. For example, MainStreet Property Group LLC was concise in why the real estate development firm chose to develop in Kenmore: “There’s been a default to the north - the jobs continue to go north.”
MainStreet’s proposed 223-unit multifamily project will further the city’s vision of creating a vibrant downtown core. The development will be built just across 68th Avenue Northeast from City Hall in the former park and ride portion of Kenmore Village.
In addition, the Benaroya Company is partnering with Real Property Investors (RPI) to propose office and retail for the shopping center portion of Kenmore Village. Both MainStreet and Benaroya/RPI have signed purchase and sale agreements with the city of Kenmore and are in the due diligence phases of these agreements.
Construction activity, which generally follows job growth, supports the conclusion that real estate investment is on the rise in the Northshore area. In 2012, the city of Kenmore issued 15 percent more residential building permits than any prior year and 2013 is on a similar track. Next door to Kenmore, Bothell City Manager Bob Stowe reports “the valuation and number of permits received in 2013 is exceeding pre-recession levels, providing a clear sign that economic recovery is occurring.”
In Kenmore, the city is jumping on this trend and working to leverage new real estate investment.
Kenmore’s experience brings forward the following observations for what cities can do to catalyze and maximize economic growth and vitality.
Invest in infrastructure
Public skin in the game is needed to recast aging downtown areas. In Kenmore, recent public investment includes three new civic buildings (King County Library, City Hall and Fire District headquarters); just under $70 million in improvements to Bothell Way (State Route 522); downtown road realignment (181st Street); new on-street parking; and streetscape enhancements.
Create private-public development partnerships
The cities of Kenmore and Bothell have assembled core downtown parcels and are in the process of turning them back over to the private sector for redevelopment. From these private-public partnerships, both cities are seeing the public investments generate far greater investment from the private sector. Kenmore’s coordination and assembly of the Kenmore Village parcels and pending return of those parcels back to the private sector is likely to see more than $25 million of new private investment in its downtown.
Cultivate economic gardening through business incubation
As part of its strategy to attract new primary employers, Kenmore launched a new business incubator this year. The incubator now houses several high-tech startup companies, all of which receive business development assistance as part of the incubator program.
Leverage unique assets
Cities can leverage their unique assets to spur economic vitality. Kenmore provides four examples of this strategy:
• As the home to Bastyr University, the nation’s leader in natural health education and research, the city of Kenmore is working with Bastyr to build on its natural health sciences specialty and thereby facilitate new lines of products, research and service models.
• Arguably the last property of its kind on the shores of Lake Washington, the 45-acre undeveloped Lakepointe project is permitted for high density housing and commercial space. City staff is working aggressively and creatively with the Lakepointe owner and potential developers to get this project off the ground.
• City officials are capitalizing on Kenmore’s eight miles of shoreline by creating more waterfront access points and facilities for the public.
• Many small high-tech startups are setting up shop in the Northshore area where they can be close to the action (and talent) on the Eastside and downtown Seattle without paying high rents. Kenmore is broadcasting its local asset of lower rents combined with close-in-proximity through its business recruitment marketing efforts.
Local governments can foster economic growth through strategic infrastructure improvements, creating private-public development partnerships, helping new primary industries get off the ground and cultivating unique assets. Whether the assets are geography, hiring trends, natural resources, or lifestyle amenities, strategizing around a city’s strengths and development goals are key to drawing the interest of the investment community.
Rob Karlinsey is the city manager of Kenmore.